June 8th: Raul Ibanez snaps a 5-5 tie with an 11th inning opposite-field bomb off of Cla Meredith.
I'll admit it, this is a personal choice. For many of you, this moment probably belongs somewhere in the thirties or forties, but for me - having seen this in person just two days after a heartbreaking Stanley Cup - it carries a little more significance. I can't tell you how badly I needed the Mariners to do something right. God bless you, Raul. God bless you.
This game actually got going pretty well. Yuni gave the M's a slim early lead, and a four-run fifth provided a neat little cushion. In our quest to see the Mariners reach five games over .500 for the first time since Bring Me To Life made Evanescence a household name, we were well on our way.
But then things started to slip. Paul McAnulty got the Padres on the board in the bottom half, and two innings later everything came apart. Miguel Batista lost control of the strike zone. Yuni made another throwing error on a routine grounder. George Sherill allowed the .215'ing Kevin Kouzmanoff to drive a game-tying RBI double. In a flash, what should've been an easy win turned into a pain in the ass, and the foundation was set for a thoroughly anxious battle of the bullpens.
Reading through the game thread, it seems the consensus at that point was that the M's were going to lose. It just felt like it was in the cards. They certainly weren't doing much to change anyone's mind; the offense stopped producing after the fifth, the bullpen kept putting people on base, and Adrian Beltre fumbled a simple roller to third. People were nervously - but concedingly (or something) - awaiting the inevitable bitter conclusion.
But me, my only recollection is one of numb comfort. Sitting in the stadium, it would've been easy to become an emotional wreck, but the Stanley Cup had drained me to such an extent that each successive troubling moment was met with visceral indifference. For all intents and purposes, I was a zombie. A moderately functional zombie of the sort that pays $8 for parking and $22.50 for ballpark admission, mind you, but a zombie nonetheless.
Somehow the Mariners survived into the eleventh, and as I sat there staring vacantly ahead, there was a loud crack that shook me into sudden consciousness. Glancing around, I didn't know where the ball was, but I saw the outfielders retreating, and when they ran out of room and looked up, I felt the rush of warm blood once again coursing through my veins for the first time in days. Human blood. Slowly I stood up, raised my hands, and clapped. This was new. I hadn't done this in a while.
I gradually became aware of what had transpired. Raul Ibanez had launched his second home run of the season off of one of the most extreme groundballing relievers in baseball. This gave the Mariners a lead, and with JJ warming up in the bullpen, it felt like even more than that. Raul's home run was essentially a walk-off blast, with the remainder of the inning but a needless formality. Sure enough, when JJ trotted out for the bottom half, he got a pair of quick groundouts before whiffing Jose Cruz Jr. to seal the deal. In an unpredictable world, it's nice to have a little certainty.
That night, I felt good. From the time Raul's homer cleared the fence until I went to bed, I don't think I ever stopped smiling. Just two days after the greatest sports-related heartbreak I've ever experienced, Raul made everything better. For better or worse, this was the moment at which I became completely and utterly invested in the 2007 Seattle Mariners.